Recently I read in the Travel section of the Sunday Birmingham News (November 27, 2011) that, starting January 1, 2012, the coffeeshops of the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, will be closed to foreign tourists.
Although a fact check on the internet turns up a lot of contradictory information, it seems that the above statement is untrue.
According to the article “Tourist Coffee Shop Ban? Not in Amsterdam” in the online NUG Magazine, the supposed ban on tourists in coffeeshops is inaccurate. According to this article, it is true that far-right politicians in the Netherlands have been trying to restrict tourist access to coffeeshops, and implement an ID pass system under which even Dutch citizens would have to have a pass to visit coffeeshops, these passes issued annually to only 1,500 citizens. However, despite media reports in newspapers, on TV and the internet (such as the Birmingham News article) announcing the upcoming restrictions, the actual situation is otherwise.
Since 1970 Dutch coffeeshops have provided a safe, legal venue in which to consume cannabis. This program, a 30+ year long social experiment, has been highly successful: the black market in marijuana has been virtually extinguished, long-term cannabis use among Dutch people, particularly teenagers, has decreased, and soft and hard drugs have been effectively separated – all this despite what drug warriors in the US would have us believe. Why would the Dutch suddenly do an about-face and dismantle a successful system for a return to the predictable problems that cannabis prohibition – or severe restriction of access to it – would re-introduce, and drastically cut tourism revenues to the Netherlands in the bargain?
Why, indeed?
The Dutch Tolerance Policy, which allows the coffeeshops to operate as cannabis outlets, was renewed on July 1, 2011, this renewal valid until June 30, 2015. While restrictions, or even prohibition, of cannabis sale and consumption have been enacted by some municipal governments in the Netherlands – Maastricht, for example – the Mayor and Council of Amsterdam, and Haarlem too, are adamantly opposed to a “no tourists, Dutch citizens by special pass only” scheme, and such restrictions will not be implemented there. As the Bulldog Coffeeshop’s website states in part, “The wide choice of coffeeshops available to tourists means that they will have no need to buy their cannabis on the street. Thus, the coffeeshops are fulfilling exactly the function for which they were established.”
So the wolves of pot prohibition will be kept away from the door for at least a few more years, it seems. But in all of this the same old question arises: why, after over 30 years of success in controlling the harm that prohibitive laws do, would anybody want to jump right back into the old system of prohibition, when it is a foregone conclusion that such a system leads to a black market, crime, and all the problems that go along with it?
Again: why, indeed?
It is this question with which my novel Marijuana deals.

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